The Concept of Running Time Is Among Soccer’s Better Virtues


There’s a lot to be said about soccer and the World Cup.

Granted, I am still what you would call a “casual” fan by any regard.

But… I am warming to the enterprise.

The thing about watching more soccer in four days, than I have in the four years leading up to this World Cup, is that I have a newly realized appreciation for all the things soccer is not.

Soccer is not like most American sports.

It is not full of itself. It is not complicated. It is, the simple, beautiful game, as they say.

I like the fact that there’s a running clock. Even if the referee adds a few additional minutes at the end of each half – arbitrary, yes, and prone to wild corruption if the opportunity presents itself – there is a real appeal to the concept of “ok, let’s keep this moving.”

In America, the constant stopping of the clock has become far more annoyance than virtue. Not only will we stop the clock after virtually every play in our sports, but we’re often fastidious about putting MORE time back ON the clock.

It is not uncommon to see stoppages in play to restore FRACTIONS of a single second on a clock in American sports.

Hell, I saw just last March in our college tournament a stoppage in play to put time back on our SECONDARY clock, the “shot” clock. Even though nobody had complained or protested about this supposed great injustice.

Think about that.

We have football and basketball in America, which have TWO clocks that we fuss over constantly. Calibrate them with electronic triggers on a referee belt back. Split them down to the 1/10th of a second.

And we’ll review a play like the Zapruder film with the clock spilling out 10th’s of a second in the corner of the screen, while our referees stare deeply into TV monitors hoping to stitch the two together to get it EXACTLY right. (Or so we think…)

The “shot” clocks exist to keep the game moving. And the “game” clocks are sewn so deeply into the rule books as to make sure the games never end.

Bah. I think soccer has the better angle here. It’s a game. Let’s finish sometime today.

I also love how soccer is under-coached, and under-officiated.

The rules of soccer are simple. Sure, offsides is a somewhat slippery concept, but aside from that, what else do you need to know?

How about our rules of American football?  Hell, they are SO complicated, that networks are now hiring FULL-TIME referees and ex-referees just to FURTHER explain the complicated rules during games.

And this is to an audience of men, who ALL THINK THEY ALREADY KNOW THE RULES! (Hint: we don’t).

Hell, CBS just lured well respected and certainly-not-past-his-prime Mike Carey to QUIT THE NFL as a head referee, just to be their own Mike Pereira!

American sports are severely over-coached as well. And the coaches are over-glorified by the announcers, who rarely have a negative word to say about these sideline men.

In soccer, a coach gives his lads a basic plan before the match, and then it’s up to the players to figure it out together. Without timeouts, whiteboards, huddles, or designed plays (which usually fail).

Which brings me to the most beautiful part of the beautiful game: no commercials.

Sure, fans must put up with jerseys being crassly sponsored, television “pinch-ins” on the sides and bottoms of your screen, plus a barrage of pitch-side billboards.

But so what? Wouldn’t you make this deal with the NFL, if it were offered?

Sure, soccer remains dull at vast watches of time during a match, dreadfully low-scoring, hopelessly poisoned by diving and fakery, and sadly corrupt by officials at the highest levels.

But I gotta say. It has quite a bit going for it, still…..

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Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at


  1. Be all that as it may, it is still boring as hell to watch.

    I think that American sports do reflect our country’s intensely legalistic soul – a country founded by lawyers is of course going to have games with complex rules and minute attention to all detail. Commercials are pretty annoying but I would really hate to have our jerseys covered in adverts… think of NASCAR; their cars are covered in adverts as are the drivers ‘one-sies’ (do they come with attached footies?) and there are still commercial breaks. Commercials are in American sports because of how television is run and paid for, not because there are designated clock-stoppages in the games that are televised. Europe just does their TV differently and regular TV shows tend to have the commercials clustered at the very start/end of shows (at least that is my understanding). Depending on the sport coaches probably are overglorified – in baseball, yes very much so, in football much less so. I think that an NFL head coach probably works harder and longer than any individual player and is probably more influential on wins/losses than any single player other than the QB. You don’t see any criticism of coaches in any sport because they all tend to be very closed ‘old boys’ networks. Company town and all that.


    • From what I’ve seen of Nascar they don’t have commercial breaks, but a PiP type of display where the race is still being shown. Granted I haven’t watched a second of a race in 4 years or so. I think that tv timeouts taken out of the NFL would be fantastic. Games would probably end in 2.5 to 3 hours. That way the NFL could fit in 3 games every sunday. Your move Goodell, your move.

  2. The only thing I don’t get is why is it that soccer boosters have to take shots at the other sports in order to boost it? Make the case without bashing another sport. Czabe makes some interesting points, but I can’t see “running time” working in football or basketball.

    Time outs are an integral part of the strategy and their use separates the great coaches from the not so great. Take away time outs and fake injuries would become an epidemic at the end of games. A football team could run out the clock with 10 minutes left.

  3. I don’t have anything against soccer but it never really caught on with me. That said, current American sports could learn a lot from how the game is presented.

  4. Sorry but baseball is horrendously slow. I know that a soccer game starts at a certain time and will end in 90 minutes whereas in baseball you never know when it’s going to end AND games always last at least 3 hours! Who has time for that! I will always prefer a “low scoring” soccer game than any 3.5 hour baseball game.

  5. Don’t want to be “that guy”, but he’s not holding up a clock. He’s holding up a substitution board. #20 is coming out and #14 is going in. Just saying.

  6. I don’t want to get into the political aspects I’m just talking face value here. At the beginning of Annie Hall Woody Allen tells a joke: Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

    That’s soccer. Sure it might be vastly corrupt and the games mind numbingly boring, but hey it’s short!


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